The tranquil Oak Flat Highlands are in the heart of Arizona. With its beautiful peaks and forests, it’s a popular spot for campers, hikers, and rock climbers.
Above all, it is the center of the religion of the San Carlos Apache tribe, a place of devotion where their gods dwell and where they still perform traditional ceremonies.
But it’s now at the center of a dispute between the tribe and FTSE 100 giant Rio Tinto. It’s also becoming an acid test for the mining company’s claims that it is determined to respect sacred sites.
Wendsler Nosie Sr. of Apache Stronghold — a coalition of Apache and non-Apache supporters bringing the case — describes it as the “holiest place where we connect with our Creator, our faith, our families and our country.” .
Clash: Apache Fortress’ Wendsler Nosie fights Rio Tinto and BHP
He says: “It is a place of healing that was sacred to us long before the Europeans arrived on this continent.”
Members of the tribe famously led by Geronimo in the 19th century have referred to him as their equivalent of Mount Sinai, describing rock paintings and carvings as the footprints and spirits of their ancestors.
In 1955, President Eisenhower signed an executive order prohibiting mining in Oak Flat, located in the Tonto National Forest 60 miles from the state capital of Phoenix.
But since 2004 there has been a bitter struggle by Rio Tinto and fellow miner BHP – through their joint venture Resolution Copper – against the locals for access to the metal that lies beneath Oak Flat.
The project is now said to be at the center of a battle in the Supreme Court that threatens to tarnish Rio’s already damaged reputation.
The company was the target of global outrage after two years ago it blew up two 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal caves in Western Australia to expand a lucrative iron ore mine, despite knowing of their archaeological and religious value.
The destruction led to a parliamentary inquiry in Australia, a reassessment of inheritance laws and an eviction of the boardroom – which included then-Chairman Jean-Sebastien Jacques.
Pay tribute: The Apache tribe was led by Geronimo in the 19th century
Chairman Simon Thompson promised the company would “never again” destroy sacred sites, and new boss Jakob Stausholm has made it his mission to investigate toxic culture and practices.
But the plight of the Apache tribe appears to be in direct conflict with these goals.
Resolution Copper says the proposed mining method could result in a nearly two-mile-wide crater at Oak Flat and could devastate the land.
Roger Featherstone, director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition’s campaign group, says: “One cannot forget Rio Tinto and BHP, both pledged to the world that they would never again allow the destruction of an Indigenous sacred site after Rio Tinto destroyed sacred rock shelters in Australia blew up a mine expansion – Resolution Copper’s mine plan would do just that.’
Locals also insist that the massive amount of waste and water required for the project could endanger the state’s resources.
Adds Featherstone, “With Arizona in the midst of its worst drought in 1,200 years, there is not enough water for this project unless farmers, communities, our public lands and other industries give up water to make it possible.” ”
Resolution Copper’s attempt to take possession of the land involved a complicated legal process that depended on a land swap with the National Forestry Service. This was waived under the Trump administration in January 2021.
The Apache tribe immediately filed an injunction to halt the project altogether, saying it would interfere with their freedom of religion. In June, a federal court rejected that injunction 2-1 – with dissenting judge Marsha Berzon calling the conclusion “preposterous.”
However, the controversial land swap is dormant and still the subject of a federal investigation. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court appeal, expected to be filed next month, will again argue that Apache religious freedom is being destroyed by the mining plans. The case is between the Apache stronghold and the US government – but Rio could be called as a witness. Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel of the Apache legal group Becket Law, said: “In terms of law, principles and common sense, this is one of the easiest cases I’ve ever worked on.
“Legally, for the Apaches themselves, it’s a matter of life and death, it’s a matter of whether their tribe could continue as a people for centuries.”
A Rio spokesman said the company has already scaled back its plans, excluding some sensitive areas. Rio added: “We respect the sovereignty of tribal communities. Resolution Copper is committed to preserving Native American cultural heritage, building partnerships and bringing lasting benefits to our communities.’
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Mining giant Rio Tinto is hit by a lawsuit over the sacred Apache site
Source link Mining giant Rio Tinto is hit by a lawsuit over the sacred Apache site